Archaeologists with the University of Oxford’s School of Archaeology have recently found and mapped over 350 large stone hunting structures known as “kites” across the Arabian desert in northern Saudi Arabia and southern Iraq. The structures were used to corral game animals into small areas where they could be more easily killed. 

Researchers from the Endangered Archaeology in the Middle East and North Africa (EAMENA) project published their findings in the journal The Holocene. Led by Dr. Michael Fradley, the team picked apart satellite images of an area near the eastern Nafud desert that hasn’t been investigated much in the past. 

The existence of the structures suggests that the deserts they were found in weren’t always deserts. Many think that the kites were built around 9000 and 4000 BCE, during a time called the Holocene Humid period when the now arid region would have been wetter, greener, and full of game. 

The recently discovered kites were likely the biggest structures of the time. Researchers think that the hunters that built them lived in huts made of organic materials that are now lost. 

“The structures we found displayed evidence of complex, careful design,” says Dr. Fradley. “In terms of size, the ‘heads’ of the kites can be over 100 meters wide, but the guiding walls (the ‘strings’ of the kite) which we currently think gazelle and other game would follow to the kite heads can be incredibly long. In some of these new examples, the surviving portion of walls run in almost straight lines for over 4 kilometers, often over very varied topography. This shows an incredible level of ability in how these structures were designed and built.”

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The scale of the kites also suggests they were built and maintained over generations. It’s also impressive that the hunters could kill enough game to sustain themselves to build large-scale stone structures. Researchers say that the vast, exaggerated scale of the kites indicates that the structures could have been an expression of status, territory, and identity of the Holocene period hunters who built them.